When I walked in the door, my mother’s bandaged face smiled at me as I went in for a hug. One side was meticulously-groomed while the other held white gauze to protect an open wound. Stoic and strong, she still never thinks to bother others with silly things like, “skin cancer.” It seems to be a monthly occurrence now, between both my parents. I watch my father’s nose and cheek be chiseled away under careful hands and a scalpel. My daughter finds it fascinating and asks to see under the bandages. At six, she can’t contemplate anything other than a band-aid means something is fixable and Grandpa and Grandma’s faces are as beautiful as the day she first laid eyes on both of them.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t home when she walked in the door. I read the text message from her father that simply read, “Ava is really, really sunburned.” It was the dreaded, “Field Day” at school and the note that came home mentioned that they’d be doing a walk outside and lunch. What that note failed to mention was that Ava spent over 4 hours outside, in the sun without adequate protection and returned from school with a severe sunburn that warranted professional attention. In researching the responsibility of care while children were at school, I came across another article featuring a child who was burned during a school, “Field Day.” My daughter’s own district too, classifies sunscreen as a medicine and she was not allowed to use another student’s or teacher’s sunscreen. (She claimed she was also told she could not bring sunscreen to school.)

The first time Ava was significantly sunburned, she was with her grandparents- two individuals still battling skin cancer who choose to sit in the sun. Ava was 4 years old and her sweet face was beet red for an entire week. Just weeks after, my father had another spot on his nose removed and my mother went in for a small spot on her cheek. Ironic, idiotic or otherwise, I love my parents but despise their whimsical approach to sun safety and dread watching their faces slowly disappear between scalpel cuts of a dermatologist’s razor. I never sit in the sun and I carry an umbrella on the warmest summer days. In the summer months, I am am sickly, pale and healthy. In the winter months, I blend right in.


“One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. A person’s risk for melanoma also doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.” – SkinCancer.org


I applied sunscreen before school, (it’s become a ritual for both my kids, leading to slimey but loveable hugs at dropoffs.) I told my daughter to go to the nurse if she felt herself getting warm. We know from past experience her bright auburn curls and light skin are no match for UV rays.

You could call me paranoid, but after having several bouts of cancer myself, I refuse to give those cells any ammunition to return. Years in the sunshine, I learned from the mistakes of my parents and feared that I had set into play, one single event that could harm my child for the future. My dear friend Molly sent me an article tonight that made me feel only marginally better. Apparently, Ava isn’t doomed for life with this sunburn, it just feels that way. 

As a parent, I am so many things, but none moreso than Director of Risk Management, (a job title from my 8-5 days, I know very, very, well.)  It is my job to access, mitigate and control any potential risk for my child. I just realized tonight, that her school district had the same job. We were in competition, them and I.

Tonight, I’m angry for a reason none other than the realization that my daughter’s school didn’t showcase their concern to protect her. They just reaffirmed my perception that they cared about risk and that risk outweighed the common sense to apply more sunscreen, bring my daughter inside, or call me to come and apply the protectant myself. With less than 48 hours left of the 2014 school year, my daughter could miss the next 2 days due to a blistering burn.

It’s hard to not be livid and send my father’s equivalent of a sternly-worded letter. Although his lackadaisical approach to the sun didn’t stick, his well-timed and perfectly written letters have taught me the importance of grace, professionalism and firmness. Common sense shouldn’t have gone by the wayside. I trust my children’s safety to others during the day and knowing that the district would rather keep a policy to protect themselves than protecting children is troubling.

We need better policies to protect our children and freedom for them to bring sunscreen to school. Remember, Ava was told she could not have sunscreen in her bag without a special note and she was not allowed to share another’s sunscreen, nor inside when she was burned. After the event when she went to the nurse, the nurse was unable to give her anything to help the burn, or administer sunscreen.  In fact, she was put onto the bus at the end of the day without a note to explain why she was coming home in the state she was in. Both John and I are shocked at the lack of attention and care for Ava’s well-being. If it happened to our child, it could happen to anyone. Something should be done.